Few people took to the challenges that the UK lockdown posed quite as well as Clive Tyldesley. The 65-year-old commentator’s Instagram account only became a regular fixture for him in August last year, when he announced he was making a return to radio name-calling, on talkSPORT. Back then, he was keen to clarify that he was still staying on as ITV’s senior football commentator.
In the past year, his Instagram account has earned the levels of legend that his status as one of the country’s most respected and likeable commentators deserves. Among the 173 posts in that time, have been his best impressions of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks sketch; a highly popular lockdown quiz; clapping for the NHS; informed addresses to camera about the state of racism in football; breathtaking insight into his beautiful commentary charts; and, ironically, a stirring breakdown of ageism in broadcasting. It all seems a little too pertinent now.
This is the same Clive Tyldesley whose erudite ramblings on the mainstream media’s failure to cover Brexit responsibly, managed to earn him 15 minutes of fame from… the mainstream media.
Lancashire-born but Reading-based, Tyldesley could scarcely have done more over the past year to show he is bang up to date and well in touch with society, sport, the audience who watch and listen to sport, and their preferred commentary styles. Frankly, who isn’t in touch at 65? It’s no age at all.
ITV’s announcement that talkSPORT’s chief football commentator Sam Matterface would be replacing Tyldesley as their new top man has been well-covered and well-criticised. This is a decision that took Tyldesley completely by surprise, as shown by his incredibly composed yet emotional video, which appeared on his Instagram feed on Tuesday (14 July).
The commentary titan had been providing match reports to ITV in the early 1980s, well before his career had taken the step from radio to television. He joined the company full-time in 1989, briefly leaving for the BBC between 1992 and 1996, before returning to ITV from then onwards. Brian Moore’s replacement as head commentator in 1998: Tyldesley. He has now occupied the top job for 22 years.
Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, Henry Winter, Jeff Sterling and many others took to Twitter to offer their own opinions on the decision — all seemed as taken aback as Tyldesley himself. Paul Hayward, until very recently the Chief Sports Writer at The Telegraph, gave perhaps the fairest response.
He said: “Two things can be true at once. Sam Matterface is a highly talented, born commentator. Congratulations to him. Equally ITV’s demotion of Clive Tyldesley is bizarre. TV can be brutal, but Tyldesley is still a master so why take the No 1 job off him?”
Tyldesley’s preparation trumps all of his contemporaries. His stats are there, but aren’t milked beyond belief. His lines adds to the story, but don’t take over the occasion. His acknowledgement that sometimes silence is called for is both responsible and humble. His consideration before he opens his mouth — both on air and off — should be a lesson to all of us. It’s al dente commentary. It has been for decades.
In February 2019, Clive Tyldesley kindly agreed to an interview for EnglandFootball.org. He took one glance at my lazy, monotonous questions and told me he wouldn’t answer them. It would “provide more material for a blog that fits the ethos of your site if I just spout,” he had decided. He was so right.
That said it all. His musings were fascinating and offered me a first insight into the kind of person that he was. Reflective, modest and fiercely interesting — he was that kind of person. Crucially, he still is. Even at the doddering age of 65.
In his public address, Tyldesley admitted he doesn’t “know why [he’s] being replaced.” He added, “I’m just going to miss the England games so much.”
Those who say the chosen narrator of a televised football match barely matters don’t sound very much like football fans. It does matter, and so do the circumstances of this demotion. The quiet societal issue of ageism has been hauled back up to the surface by this. Some commentators may have ‘lost touch’ with a younger audience, but Clive Tyldesley — a self-confessed Billie Eilish fan and father of four children in their twenties — certainly hasn’t.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Photos 1: ITV. Photo 2: Shutterstock. Photo 3: Getty Images.